India, US seeking ground on civil nuclear issue

Washington: India and US are expected to seek a common ground on the implementation of civil nuclear deal when Deputy Secretary of State William Burns travels to New Delhi later this month amid attempts by two sides to avoid rhetoric in public. The issue which has been a matter of contention due to India`s nuclear liability law is expected to dominate the discussions that Burns will have with Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai and with other officials.

Sources pointed out that despite strong reservations on this issue, after the Indian Government issued the Gazette notification last month, the Obama Administration has decided to not to come out with its view. India and the US appear to have agreed to avoid finger-pointing in public on the contentious nuclear liability issue and are internally working to find out a common ground.

The consequence of the new approach is that the US government has officially held off any public comment on the Implementation Rules, preferring to work with India through quiet diplomacy. In fact, there is no consensus both inside the US Government and the American corporate sector on how to respond to this nuclear issue, said a nuclear expert who is intimately knowledgeable about the situation and regularly interacts with government officials in the US and India, involved in negotiating on this subject, as well as with US nuclear industry and legal community.

"The US and India are trying to find a common ground to keep the hopes of civil nuclear commerce between the two countries alive," said the expert who requested anonymity given the sensitive nature of the ongoing negotiations. It is learnt that the American corporate sector recently submitted to the State Department its viewpoint on India`s Gazette notification. India`s nuclear liability law did figure when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had met President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the ASEAN and East Asia Summits in Bali last month, where he "explained to him (Obama) that we have a law in place. Rules have been formulated…"

"Therefore, we have gone some way to respond to the concerns of American companies and within the four corners of the law of the land we are willing to address any specific grievances," Singh had said after meeting Obama. Officials of the Obama Administration and the industry representations have had several meetings in recent past on this issue, informed sources said.

"There are two schools of opinions which cut across government officials, lawyers, policy makers, etc. the purist and the pragmatist," the expert said, adding that the "purists" will accept nothing short of India changing the NLL and the Implementation Rules to be consistent with the five principles of the Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC).

These five principles are (1) channeling all legal liability for nuclear damage exclusively to the operator; (2) imposing liability on the operator without the need to demonstrate fault, negligence or intent; (3) granting exclusive jurisdiction to the courts of the country where a nuclear incident occurs; (4) permitting liability to be limited in amount and in time; and (5) compensating damage without any discrimination based upon nationality, domicile or residence.